GREENBURGH, N.Y. – The only trouble Sean Avery’s mouth got him into on his first day back with the New York Rangers was in losing a bet to goalie Henrik Lundqvist.
“Yeah, he owes me a dinner next road trip,” Lundqvist said.
The outspoken forward made it through a 40-minute practice Wednesday, one day after the Rangers rescued hockey’s bad boy off re-entry waivers from the Dallas Stars and gave him another shot at the NHL.
He spent time skating on a line with Petr Prucha and Lauri Korpikoski, and wrapped up the session with a shootout drill against Lundqvist – landing on his stomach after the final attempt.
The bet was that Avery couldn’t score twice in five tries on New York’s No. 1 netminder. Lundqvist held him to one and expects to enjoy an expensive meal – maybe in Montreal in two weeks.
“I just feel like I’m just really grateful to be home,” the 28-year-old Avery said. “Obviously I want to make the best of this opportunity.
“I’m not perfect, but I’m going to work as hard as I can to make everyone happy, work hard and win games. That’s what I can control.”
Rangers coach John Tortorella spoke briefly with Avery and wouldn’t commit to putting him into the lineup Thursday night against the New York Islanders.
Avery spent the past month with the Rangers’ Hartford AHL affiliate while remaining property of the Stars. He hasn’t played in the NHL since his suspension in December for making a crude remark about other hockey players dating his former girlfriends.
Avery served a six-game ban and completed treatment in a league counselling program, but the Stars made it clear he would never play for them again. He seemed destined to return to the Rangers, where he spent 1 1/2 successful seasons before leaving as a free agent last summer, once he went to Hartford on Feb. 10.
“They have some real amazing kids down there – also kind of refreshed my take on the game and everything involved in it,” Avery said. “I had a great time and it took a couple weeks but I feel like I got it the last five or six games.”
Avery knows there might not be another chance if this one fails. Easy-going coach Tom Renney is no longer here. He was replaced last week by the tougher Tortorella, whose task over the final quarter of this season is to get the Rangers in the playoffs.
“Sean will probably keep a little lower profile now,” Lundqvist said. “We’ll see.”
Tortorella had harsh words for Avery a few months ago when he worked as a hockey analyst with TSN. He said he didn’t have to be convinced by New York general manager Glen Sather to take Avery into a dressing room he believes is banded together.
“A lot of people have talked about the things I’ve said about Sean, but there are some other things I’ve said that he can be a very effective player,” Tortorella said.
“It’s pretty simple with me. I think the locker room is good right now. The locker room needs to be straightened up before you win hockey games consistently.
“We just want people to join in and understand what team concept is.”
Avery declined to get into specifics of the behavioural counselling he received, but said that many factors have made him a different person.
His agitating style has proven effective on opponents and the Rangers have statistical proof that they are a better club when he is a part of it.
“I think even a milder version of Sean Avery is still … not that mild,” he said.
The Rangers advanced to the second round of the playoffs in both seasons Avery was on the team. They went 50-23-13 with him and 9-13-3 when he was out.
Last season, he had 15 goals and 18 assists in 57 games with the Rangers, and was second on the club in penalty minutes (154).
Avery had three goals and seven assists in only 23 games for Dallas before being suspended by the NHL on Dec. 2 for comments he made hours before the Stars’ road game against the Calgary Flames.
New York will be responsible for half the money left on Avery’s contract, which runs through the next three seasons, with a salary cap hit of more than US$3.8 million a year. The Rangers are seventh in the Eastern Conference, two places above the post-season cutoff.
“If he concentrates on just playing and not get caught up in all the minutia out there and everything coming at him, I think he can be a real effective guy for us,” Tortorella said.